Dark Shadows: Johnny Depp and Director Tim Burton Discuss Why They Paired for a Vampire Movie
05.07.12 by Ryan
Dark Shadows isn't the first collaboration between actor Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton, but it could their riskiest since first uniting on Edward Scissorhands back in 1990. Based on the Gothic soap opera created by Dan Curtis that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971, Dark Shadows follows the lives of the eccentric Collins family, including the 200-year-old vampire Barnabas, originally played by the late Jonathan Frid and portrayed by Depp in the movie.
While the show certainly has a loyal fanbase, Dark Shadows isn't quite as universally well-known as the last story Depp and Burton brought to the big screen, 2010's Alice in Wonderland. However, both Burton and Depp proclaim to be huge fans of the series, which unlike the seeming omnipresence of vampires in movies and TV series today, was one of its kind at the time. During the press conference for the movie this weekend at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, Burton said it was actually Depp who instigated the big adaptation of Dark Shadows.
"We've talked about [Dark Shadows] I think for many years, but I think this is the first project that I ever remember for Johnny, where you sort of said — I think he wanted to play this ever since you were a little boy," Burton said to Depp. "Just a wee tyke," Depp responded.
Burton continued: "But, I mean, it's one of those kind of things where, the show had a lot of impact — I mean, for some of us — Johnny, Michelle [Pfeiffer], and I were kind of, there at the time when it came out. We just recall it being a very strong, interesting property."
Obviously a cult classic, the Dark Shadows TV show is likely a mystery amongst the 'tweens that created a hysteria over the Twilight franchise, but Depp said that the genesis of the movie was, in a way, a reaction to the current state of vampire cinema.
As a fan of the show, as Tim already said, our initial conversation — I think it was during Sweeney Todd — where I just blurted out, just in mid-conversation, "We should do a vampire movie together where you actually have a vampire that looks like a vampire." And, you know, Dark Shadows was kind of looming on the periphery, and then Tim and I started talking about it and how it should be shaped and [screenwriter] Seth [Grahame-Smith] came on board and three of us just riffed, you know, really. Just one thing led to another, and it basically dictated to us what it wanted to be in a sense with Tim in the forefront, leading the troops.
Depp would later go even further, stating that Dark Shadows was "a kind of rebellion against vampires that look like, you know, underwear models," particularly with the look of Depp's Barnabas, all sickly pale, with extended fingers and lack of a moonlit, um, sparkle. Still, Depp admitted that he understood the "erotic nature" of vampires, even if he'd rather concentrate on Barnabas and the 200-year gap between his era and the one he is eventually unleashed in.
It's a strange thing because, as a child, I certainly had a fascination with monsters and vampires, as did Tim, and there's this darkness, this mystery, this intrigue. And then, as you get older, you know, you recognize this erotic nature of the vampire, the idea of the undead. What was most interesting, in terms of Barnabas, was to make that guy, that vampire — clearly a vampire — fit back into this odd society and this dysfunctional family and I think [Burton] did it rather seamlessly.
Depp does get his vampire moments, such as his first kill, revealed in a recent Dark Shadows TV spot, where Barnabas takes out his hunger on a construction worker ("You know, I felt like I was biting one of the Village People," Depp joked). However, Dark Shadows isn't about exploiting a Romeo and Juliet scenario about young love between vampires and humans (Burton's already explored forbidden love in Edward Scissorhands, after all), but a story about a family united by a distant, awkward relative who just happens to be a vampire.
Considering Burton's penchant for using unlikely characters in order to tell stories about human relationships, and Depp's ability to make eccentric characters feel like real people, perhaps Dark Shadows isn't such a risk after all.